By Ian Anderson
Leong Fu So was born in Teluk Anson in 1932, the son of a policeman. Shortly afterwards, the family was transferred to Ipoh and young Fu soon found himself in ACS School, during which time he took a great interest in martial arts.
He was not a tall youngster but very bulky and extremely strong. During the Japanese Occupation, it is said that he learned Jiu-Jitsu from a Japanese officer. He went on to learn the art of Judo, rising to the level of Black Belt in the 1950s. Soon he discovered Aikido and Kung Fu. At the same time, he became friendly with British soldiers stationed in Ipoh. Some of these were wrestlers and he soon learned that art form as well, becoming an amateur wrestler with occasional bouts at Jubilee Park. Here he was spotted by an American promoter who encouraged him to pursue an international, professional wrestling career. Accepting the challenge he went into the ring to fight for profit rather than fun. The decision took him through Europe and into the United States.
Leong Fu retired from the ring in 1963. He was 31 years old and had achieved so much. Twice he beat the dreaded King Kong, the unofficial world wrestling champion, to become the Chinese Wrestling Champion of the World. However, wrestling purists were doubtful that his techniques were entirely legal. With his background, the new Champion excelled at producing a karate chop at the critical moment that would end the bout.
With such a wealth of experience in martial arts, he became invaluable to those who wanted to learn from him. He became an instructor as well as an author, publishing books that included Shaolin Kungfu, Kungfu Karate the latter which was also published as a series of booklets, delivered internationally, monthly, by mail order.
In 1986 Leong’s eyesight started to fail and he decided to turn to the culinary world, coming up with a unique hone-grown recipe. This was based on his experience of travelling around the world as a wrestler. He recalled:
“My wife and I had wanted to start a grilled fish stall. But when the proprietor of Cheong Seng Restaurant in Ipoh Garden South asked us what business we were starting, we answered ‘pork chop’”.
He called his recipe “Old Cottage Pork Chop” and soon there was Old Cottage Chicken Chop as well. Providing personal attention, the proprietor and his wife served the customers themselves, he in a bush jacket, and she in a cheongsam. Their stall opened 6pm to 11pm nightly. They charged $3.60 for a plate of pork chop and $3.95 for chicken chop.
Over 1987 and 1988 the Old Cottage brand not only opened more outlets but was a runaway success. With effective franchise arrangements, the business expanded dramatically, both in locations and products. Old Cottage grew steadily until Leong Fu passed away on January 6, 1991, in Ipoh, from a stroke. At that stage, there were outlets all over Malaysia from Penang in the north to Johor Bahru in the South and even as far as Kota Kinabalu to the East. Ten towns and 12 outlets carried Leong’s name. What a Man! What a success!
Today there is no Old Cottage to savour. After Leong passed away, Mrs Leong Fu (Esther Ho) sold the business and moved in with her daughter in Kuala Lumpur. Without the driving force of the Champion and his wife, the business soon floundered. Old Cottage has gone and all that is left is nostalgia.